Prof. Joseph Levine

Senior Psychiatrist




Conversation 22: The internalized enemy group [separate from the internalized self-characters group]

By Prof. Levine & Dr. Salganik

Following on from the previous blog conversations, we also assume here the existence of an internalized "enemy group" in our brain that is separate from the internalized social self-characters group that we will call here the "directorate of internalized characters" or for short "the board".

We will give several reasons for this:

First, as we mentioned before, we assume that the rules that apply to a real external group or groups also apply to a group internalized within the individual. If we look at the structure of groups in the outside world, we will quickly notice the existence of oppositional groups to a given group in almost any chosen social field. This is so entrenched that in the parliamentary political system the opposition group or groups are recognized, they have a place, and a chairman with agreed rights is even elected for this collection of groups or groups. And if we claim that the rules that apply to a real external group or groups also apply to a group internalized within the individual, then there is room to speculate about the existence of an internalized group of opponents or enemies.

Second, in the internalized board of directors’ group that builds the social self, there is a leader or leaders that we even called the "dictator-self" who imposes censorship on the acceptance of certain positions and values ​​and figures who advocate them, even if they are significant to an individual and those are excluded to another group, i.e. the group of enemies or opponents.

Thirdly, we talked about the existence of sensitivity channels. These may also play a role in building the group of enemies. For example, if an individual has a channel of sensitivity to high status, then if a certain character interferes with this or threatens it, then this person will not be included in the group of the board of directors but in the group of opponents.

Fourth, there are imaging studies of the enemy figure that demonstrate that its representation or representation in the brain is different from that of other familiar people. In a comprehensive review article, Motoaki Sugiura opens by saying that an enemy is considered to be someone against whom we hold negative social attitudes and in response to his approach we enter into "fight or flight" behavior.

Motoaki Sugiura. Neuroimaging studies on recognition of personally familiar people; Frontiers in Bioscience 19, 672-686, January 1, 2014.

תמונה שמכילה טקסט, אדם, איש, מקורה

התיאור נוצר באופן אוטומטי

Motoaki Sugiura – University of Tokyo.

This researcher mentions two brain imaging studies that indicated activation in similar areas in response to an enemy among subjects who expressed a strong dislike for a particular person, such as a former lover or a work competitor. Such subjects were selected and scanned while viewing the face of the personal enemy (1). The activation was significantly higher in the medial frontal brain areas that apparently correspond to the supplementary motor area (SMA), the bilateral premotor area in the cerebral cortex, the frontal cerebral pole, the bilateral insula and the brain nucleus known as the right putamen compared to the activation when viewing the face of control. The activation in the right medial frontal premotor cortex and insula regions were positively correlated with the score given for the degree of disgust. This activation, the author notes, largely overlaps areas reported when viewing the face of a presidential candidate belonging to a rival party while simultaneously viewing a candidate belonging to the party to which the subject is registered (2). Although the presidential candidates are "famous", interaction in terms of voting and policy-making may result in a black-and-white relationship between them and thus turn the candidate from the opposing party into a kind of an enemy, at least for enthusiastic voters. It has been suggested that the involvement of motor cortices reflects the mobilization of the motor system for "fight or flight" behavior, and that of the insula and putamen nuclei reflects negative emotional responses such as disgust and fear (1).

1.] S. Zeki, J. P. Romaya: Neural correlates of hate. PLoS One,

3(10), e3556 (2008).

Semir Zeki – neurobiologist, Franklin Humanities Institute.

2.] J. T. Kaplan, J. Freedman, M. Iacoboni: Us versus them: Political attitudes and party affiliation influence neural response to faces of presidential candidates.

Neuropsychologia, 45(1), 55-64 (2007)

Fifth, having the enemy group as a separate group has survival advantages. Because the identification of the enemies as not related to the individual, as others, as separate “from me”, encourages distancing from them or war against them [the "fight or flight" mechanism] and it can be assumed that the identification of enemies and their existence as a separate internalized group may also exist in primates and possibly also in certain other vertebrates.

Finally, there are pathological situations in which the group of enemies takes on considerable significance. For example in paranoid patients this internalized group is perceived as being real in the world, or realistic, something accompanied by anxiety and fear. Or for example in a personality disorder known as borderline disorder where internalized figures belonging to the board that builds the self, move towards the enemy group and vice versa according to external circumstances and emotional states. We note that there is also a defense mechanism in the mental system known as “split” , this mechanism creates a differentiated experience between "good" and "bad". For example, the perception of a certain minority group as only evil and dangerous, without considering its complexity and diversity, which allows to go against it in relation to the situation in which it were perceived in a more complete and complex way. This mechanism allows characters to be transferred to the group of enemies who will then be perceived as evil and threatening.

We note that the internalized enemy group is usually relatively stable, but the boundary between it and the board of internalized characters that builds the social self, can be breached following a traumatic event accompanied by strong emotions or in the case of a significant change in attitudes [for example, following joining a certain sect with a new set of values], in these case a transition of characters between these two groups is possible.

We hypothesize that the beginning of the formation of the enemy group occurs already at a very young age, when figures that threaten existence that are associated with a negative emotion [fear, disgust, anxiety, hatred] are attached to the enemy group, while those who contribute to survival or meet needs and are associated with a positive emotion are attached to the “board of directors”.

It is also possible that the characters in the enemy group are perceived in a more undifferentiated way with less subtlety compared to the characters in the board. And it also seems that their perception is also influenced by the subculture of the individual and his channels of sensitivity.

Finally, we note that there may also be figures on the board of directors that contain negative aspects, but it seems that these are figures that at the same time also contain positive aspects, such as satisfying certain needs [for example, a mother who humiliates her child but also fulfills basic needs], so the attitude towards them is ambivalent. On the other hand, the attitude towards characters in the enemy group is usually distinctly negative.

That's it for the time being.

Best regards.

Dr. Igor Salganik and Prof. Joseph Levine

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